Idaho Power Objects to FERC Requests
by Ken Dey
Idaho Power Co. is objecting to some of the additional study requests that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says should be included in the company's application for a new license to operate its three Hells Canyon hydroelectric dams.
At the same time, two major environmental groups are calling on FERC to require the company to study the feasibility of fish passage at the three-dam complex.
Idaho Power Co., along with American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United, filed separate objections with FERC earlier this month.
The objections came in response to a FERC order in early May requiring Idaho Power to enhance current studies or launch new studies on 14 separate issues surrounding the relicensing. The major issues included a request for more studies on water quality, sediment and water temperature.
Idaho Power officials aren't objecting to all the issues, but they are concerned about requests for additional studies on flow restrictions and FERC's request to study the feasibility of installing a device on Brownlee Dam to control the temperature of water discharged from the reservoir. There's a widespread belief that the temperature of water leaving Brownlee Reservoir affects salmon spawning and growth. The commission said Idaho Power should consider technology that would provide cooler water in the summer and fall for the chinook spawning season and accelerate the warming of water in the spring to promote growth.
Idaho Power officials, however, have argued that such a system is untested and could prove too costly. The company also doesn't believe it is solely responsible for high temperatures in Brownlee.
"We don't believe there is a connection between these information requests and the operation of our dams," said Craig Jones, manager of Idaho Power's relicensing efforts. Jones said some of the requests ask the company to explore mitigation options for problems created by the four lower Snake River Dams below Hells Canyon.
Those dams, all federal projects, have been the subject of criticism from environmental groups who advocate their removal to improve habitat for native fish.
Environmental groups applauded FERC for many of its additional study requests but criticized the agency for not requiring further study of fish passage.
FERC said the company provided "sufficient" information in its application to evaluate reasonable fish passage alternatives and restoration strategies."
But in a news conference held this week in Boise representatives of Idaho Rivers United said the application has no studies showing possible alternatives to move fish around the dams.
The organization also unveiled a recent poll of 403 Idaho Power customers, which found that 71 percent of those customers agreed Idaho Power should provide fish passage through the Hells Canyon dams. The group argues that the Idaho Power dams are the final block for any further upstream migration of native salmon, and fish passage alternatives should be included in the license application.
Although the objections were filed, FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said the commission is under no legal obligation to respond to the objections. It typically takes such objections on a "case-by-case" basis and would make any decisions based on the facts presented, she said.
Idaho Power filed its application to relicense its three Hells Canyon dams last year. The company's current federal license granted in 1955 expires in 2005. the company is asking for a new 30-year license to operate the dams, which provide more than two-thirds of the company's hydroelectricity.
What's next in relicensing
Because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has requested additional studies as part of the relicensing process, the schedule for relicensing has been delayed and Idaho Power's current license will expire long before the process is complete. The company will operate under a temporary license until the process is completed. Here's a look at the latest deadlines:
- February 2005: Additional studies from Idaho Power due.
- September 2005: Draft environmental impact statement issued by FERC.
- September/October 2005: Draft EIS meetings held.
- March 2006: Final EIS issued.
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